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Four Steps To More Skillful Sequencing

Ashton Class-8070

Before I begin, I want to include a brief preface to state that there are plenty of ways to sequence a class. Some people plan out a very detailed sequence based on a Queen/King pose, others plan out a class to touch as much of the body as possible in different ways, some teachers don’t plan at all and just “wing it” once they see which students arrived that day, and there is a whole world in between those options as well. I don’t necessarily consider any of them wrong or right, but there are definitely skillful ways to sequence a class and unskillful ways to sequence a class. I know plenty of teachers that “wing it” in class, and still teach a great class with no planning what so ever. I’ve also seen teachers stick too rigidly to what seemed like a perfect plan, and end up offering a terrible class because they didn’t adapt things to the particular students that showed up for class that day.

How to sequence a postural yoga class is a rabbit hole that can go very deep. We’ll be going further into the various ways to sequence a class in my upcoming webinar later this year! (Be sure to sign up for my Newsletter to get the latest info on upcoming workshops, webinars, and online trainings)

All that being said, I think the Four Steps below can offer some help no matter how one chooses to plan and teach a class. Whether the make-up of the class is planned before or done on the fly, these simple steps can help anyone weave a more skillful sequence. It is by no means an exhaustive list of steps, but these four steps can likely be weaved into any method with which you create your classes.

Think Shapes, Instead of Poses

Whenever I am teaching sequencing to a group of students in a yoga teacher training, an area where people get stuck often is being able to call up postures and their names. They try to think about what postures they know of and how to create sequences from that. But if you were to set aside the names of any pose, or even a deep knowledge of postures, what we are all very capable of is recognizing shapes. What sorts of shapes does the human form take?

Let’s say you are wanting to sequence a back bending class. Well, a back bend is a very particular shape. How else can you mirror that shape in other ways? How can I mirror a back bending shape with both legs involved? With one leg involved? What postures create that shape while working against gravity? While working with gravity?

Once we start to see the postures as human shapes, then we don’t have to worry about what postures we know or what their names are, we can start to create sequences based on those basic human shapes by altering and tweaking the shapes slightly. This may or may not lead to a posture with a fancy sanskrit name, but what it will do is set you students up for anatomical success.

Now that you have a bunch of similar shapes in mind, what next? Well, that leads us to the next point.

Build things from Simple to Complex

Now that you have your shapes in mind, it’s helpful to start to deconstruct what shapes/postures are more physically challenging, what shapes/postures have greater demands on strength and/or range of motion. For example: a low lounge with a knee down is a less complex and challenging shape then a high lounge with the back knee off the floor. Bow pose (dhanurasana) is a more accessible shape to find for most then, let’s say, wheel pose (chakrasana), and generally will have less demands on a body to get into the shape.

Part of the process of skillful sequencing is learning how to weave the various shapes within the postures together in such a way that your sequencing warms up the body and prepares it for more complex and challenging shapes as you go along. You are literally training the body in new skill sets in a very progressive and intelligent way.

See the two sets of images below for examples of a shape moving from a more simple and less demanding shape  to greater complexity and higher demands on the body.

side 1back 1
side2back 2
side 3back 3

Bring in the support!

As shapes progress into greater complexity, you’ll want additional support for that complexity. Taking the above images as an example, by the time we get to the final shape on the right column (dancers pose, aka natarajasana), not only do we want the back to be more prepared and warmed up, but we’ll also want to make sure that the hamstrings are open (for the standing leg) and the hips and core warm so they can help stabilize the body in the pose. While a stable hip and plenty of range in the hamstrings might not be the focus of your sequence, some attention will be needed for both if your sequence is taking on shapes that require that in particular poses. A back bend class isn’t going to be all back bends, you’ll need supporting postures to help build the skill set of the variations of the shape.

Weave in Counter Poses

Which leads us, as well, to the counter pose! Sticking with the back bending class, you won’t want a class emphasizing back bends to ONLY have back bends and the supportive postures. You’ll also want some counter postures. In the case of our back bending class, we’d want to include some forward folding postures. You can also mirror opposite shapes here. So if you are doing a lot of back bends with a single leg involved, then you can do lots of single leg folding postures as your counter. If both legs/hips are involved in your extension (eg: dhanurasana, bow pose), then perhaps mirror it with a posture that has both hips in flexion (eg:paschimottanasana, seated forward fold).

In summary, remember that there are plenty of ways to skillfully sequence a yoga class. I encourage you to put as much time and thought into your process as possible, so you can develop and grow as a teacher, no matter what type of class you choose to offer.

 

Namaste!

 

New Yoga in America Study

Ashton Class-8195

The new Yoga in America Study has been released, giving us the most thorough statistics on yoga in America since the last study came out in 2012, and it’s all pretty exciting news if you are in any way involved in yoga! There are a lot of interesting details in there about yoga students, yoga teachers, and yoga studios. If you are a  yoga teacher or yoga studio owner, it’s definitely worth looking through the 87 page document.

 

Here are some of the things I found most interesting:

  • The total number of people practicing yoga has continued to grew at an amazing rate. Approximately 37 million people practice yoga in the United States, up from 20 million in 2012.
  • The number of men practicing yoga has also exploded! The number has more than doubled in these last few years. That’s awesome! Men are finally starting to get the clue that yoga is for everyone. And women have typically hovered around 80-90% of the people doing yoga, with these new statistics, they are down below 80% for the first time that I have ever seen (78% but that’s a big shift!).
    • 2012: 4 million men practicing yoga in the United States
    • 2016: 10 million men practicing yoga in the United States
  • The top three qualities that people believe make up a great yoga instructor
    • Is warm and friendly
    • Easily understood/clear with instructions
    • Is knowledgeable about the poses (asana)
    • And rounding off the top 10: Participates in ongoing learning, is challenging, and focuses on the spiritual aspects of yoga
    • This validates why I spend so much time on these things in teacher trainings.
      • Connect with your students! Talk with them before and after class. Get a sense of their goals, any injuries they have, and who they are as people.
      • Clear, direct language is IMPORTANT! People need to be able to understand what to do, even if they can’t see you (heck, they should be able to do it with their eyes closed).
      • Anatomy and kinesiology! They are sooo important! You need to know how the body works and moves, so you can understand the postures! It’s not enough to simply memorize postures You have to know how each body can work around, into and out of those basic shapes.
  • As a father, it was great to see the statistic that 37% of households have a child under the age of 18 that has taken a yoga class or considers themselves a yoga practitioner.
  • The majority of people are going to yoga 2-4 times a week, which means people are heading into yoga classes more often then ever before!

 

You can check out and download the full study in PDF form HERE.

 

You can also check out the info-graphic below for some highlights!

 

And feel free to share this blog post with anyone who you think might find it interesting!

Yoga Infographic

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Turning things upside down… a different take on Headstand

It’s definitely winter for Southern California right now! The past few years have had us enjoying 70s and sunshine through December and January, but with El Nino visiting this year, we have gotten a lot more rain, and a lot more uncharacteristic cold. For me, that’s meant a lot less movement and time spent outdoors. My immune system has been feeling it, taking a big hit recently. I lost my voice last week, while still struggling with a bit of a sore throat, my energy levels have dropped, and I’ve developed some nice dark circles under my eyes. OYE!

 

One of the ways I’ve always given myself a good reboot is to add more headstands into my daily life. Only problem is: my neck doesn’t like headstand. Like a lot of people who spend or have spent a lot of time in front of a computer screen, I have what some might call “upper cross syndrome”, ie: flattening of the lower cervical spine and hyper extension of the upper cervical spine, where the head is moved forward, usually accompanied by some extra rounding of the upper back/thoracic spine.

Computer neck

What this means is that it is NOT a good idea for me to be weight bearing on my neck. So no headstand… And while I COULD technically work myself up to hold handstands for excessive periods of time to get a similar effect, I have a better way to get the wonderful effects of the big inversion!

 

Headstand on chairs

Headstand on two chairs!

 

There is no pressure on my neck. In fact, I get INCREDIBLE traction for my neck, taking a lot of pressure of any compressed nerves in my cervical spine. I get plenty of blood flow to my head and all in all a few minutes a day has me feeling super rejuvenated! You don’t need fancy equipment (I’ve seen devices made that cost upwards of $100+ that do something similar). I do have padded chairs that I often use (that cost $18 each), but as you can see, all I did here was grab two chairs from our kitchen and two cushions from our couch and vwalla! I’ve got some nice cushy support for my shoulders, my head is off the floor, no pressure on my neck, and I can hold this for as long as it seems appropriate. I have my back to the wall, just so I don’t have to worry as much about stability.

 

I sometimes give this pose (with the chairs) to students who have been experiencing neck pain as well. The traction on the neck, with the shoulders pinned by the chairs, is INCREDIBLE and can often lead to a greater range of motion for the neck as well as a reduction in nerve related pain coming from the cervical spine.

 

Despite their importance in traditional posture based yoga and the many raves about their benefits, from a scientific perspective, there isn’t a ton of evidence as to the specific effects of headstands and inversions. A small swedish study in 2013 found an increase in heart rate variability, which is a sign of a healthy heart, as well as a “subsequent restorative effect on the automatic nervous system”. Other studies have been done about inversions and disc health, but we are still lacking in studies on the effects of headstands and what they do for the body. We do have centuries of anecdotal evidence, however.

 

Some of the assumed benefits of headstands:

 

  1. Better circulation. With the heart working hard all day to pump blood flow up to your brain as well as back up from the feet, headstand is said to give the heart a rest and reduce unnecessary strain. So while the heart rate drops during a headstand, it’s helping the the heart rest so that it has plenty of pumping power for later.
  2. Blood and fluid that can get stuck down in the feet (edema), find an easier path back to the heart, which can help with varicose veins.
  3. It’s said to help flush fresh blood and nutrients into the face, helping with radiant, glowing skin!
  4. Flushes the adrenal glands, which could potentially help with stress.
  5. Provides more blood to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands.
  6. Stress relief! A few minutes up in a headstand and you are likely to notice the almost immediate different in your stress levels.
  7. Greater focus. With all the extra blood flow to the brain, headstands can be very helpful in increasing short term focus. If I am writing late at night and tired, I will often invert to help wake me up, clear my mind, and sharpen my focus!

 

Experiment:

 

As I integrate this modified headstand into my daily routine over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to test my heart rate with my FitBit Charge HR and see how much my heart rate drops during each session. I’ll post a follow up blog with the results!

 

I’d love to hear about some of your experiences with headstand or this modified headstand in the comments below!

 

Creating new Yoga Videos

 

Hey Everyone!

 

This video was posted on my Facebook page a few weeks ago, but I am posting it here so I can continue to get feedback from all of you! I am currently working on all sorts of new yoga video content: free youtube videos, online yoga,  meditation and philosophy courses, and more! I’d love to hear from YOU about what you’d like to see the most. What sorts of things are you interested in?

So leave feedback in the comments section below, or email me at ashton@yogawithashton.com! I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for your support and I can’t wait to be sharing more videos with you soon!

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